THESE QUARANTINE-Y DAYS, when little is the same as it ever was, “time” has warped into something newly confusing and fluid — more a concept than a construction, though still helpful, in a grounding sense, when the next Zoom meeting starts at 2.
Or, on two bigger scales, when the Seattle Design Festival starts on Aug. 15, and this year is its 10th anniversary.
The Backstory: Homes, humans and design (and even a special festival) adapt for our times
The Seattle Design Festival turns 10: a Q&A on its origins, its influence — and its flexibility
You may ask yourself: How will they work this? Well, “festival” also doubles as a concept, so creative, interactive programs and experiences will live online, and every element will coalesce around a theme that arose even before the calendar dissolved into wavy Captcha blurs: It’s “About Time.”
The nimble design-minded folks at AIA Seattle and Design in Public, which presents the festival, see Ed Sozinho’s new Broadview home, called “Softbox,” as an ideal representation of that theme — even as its scope evolved along with our concept of time, and our times.
“I love thinking about Ed’s incredible home in the context of our festival theme, which resonates with his project on several levels,” says Lisa Richmond, AIA Seattle executive director and founder of the festival. “First, Softbox is a labor of love that represents a huge investment of time, literally decades, as Ed collected ideas and pondered the needs of his family. It is such a personal expression of his vision and his life. Second, the home’s deliberate flexibility allows it to change over time, in response to changing seasons or evolving needs.”
Bonus third: Ed finds himself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife (Darlene), and their 10-year-old daughter, Sierra, together, during this uncertain time. It’s the perfect place to spend a lot of time in place.
You may ask yourself: Well, how did he get here? That, too, is about time: so much time — and so many kinds.
Once in a (previous) lifetime: Ed is a professional photographer (a “softbox” softens a light source). He used to work as an architect. For the ultimate in personal projects, he dug out the pencils (and the occasional Sharpie) to co-design his family home with his longtime friend and colleague, architect Kevin O’Leary of KOArchitecture. “It’d been 16 years since I’d sketched architecture in a meaningful way, and I didn’t have AutoCAD and wasn’t about to teach myself to do all that again,” Ed says. “We hired Kevin to do all the CAD drawings and city submittals, and the two of us collaborated on design ideas. And that was wonderful. I took care of all the detailing, which I drew by hand in an 8½-x-11 booklet that accompanied the construction set.” (Softbox won an Award of Merit in AIA Seattle’s 2019 Honor Awards, which is extra-special, Ed says, because he and O’Leary served together on the awards committee “for maybe six years.”)
Time is on their side: This was not a quick transition from concept to completion, and at times, there were serious questions about even making it past “concept.” “We looked for a long time to find a piece of property. I wanted east-west exposure,” Ed says. “There was a little 1954 brick guy here. We had it for about three years and rented it out before we did this. We weren’t ready financially to pull the trigger, and so we started the design process, and started to get some real idea of what could happen. We had a budget, and that was all we could do, and [a couple contractors] came back with twice the price that we built it for. I remember driving home from [one of those first] meetings, and I was crying. [Darlene and I] were both just so upset. It was like, ‘This isn’t going to happen.’ We interviewed more contractors; we got two with the same price area, and one was one of my daughter’s friends from school, and it worked out.”
Marking time: “I’m a big proponent of isometric sketches, so the contractor (NRC Homes) would have a question, or the framer, and I would just have a Sharpie with me, and I would do sketches all over the plywood,” Ed says. “[One] wall probably has a couple dozen sketches on it, and when they put the waterproofing on, I was sketching on that, too. I was out here every day, and I had my Sharpie with me, and doing it three-dimensionally like that, it just made it easier for everyone to understand what was going on. I was joking about, if anybody ever tears this house down, they’re going to find all this weird stuff everywhere.”
Time, passages: Four fundamental design elements were the hard drivers of Softbox: a south-facing courtyard, natural light, negative space and a distinct entry sequence. Often, they join forces. “As you come in this entry sequence, the first thing you see of the house is this outdoor space and the courtyard, and then everything builds off of that,” Ed says. “The courtyard is a negative space; it’s created by three different boxes (the main house, the shop and the kitchen). We saw this when we were in Portugal: You’re walking along the streets, and you see these kind of brutal walls, and then inside there’ll be a doorway, and you can get a peek in there, and there’ll be these beautiful courtyards, and you’d be like, ‘Oh my God; that’s just gorgeous.’ This entry sequence of not seeing the front door and going into a covered compression area, being compressed vertically and horizontally, that was all part of this entry sequence.”
A stitch in time: “Our budget was of the utmost concern, so a lot of our decisions were budget-driven as far as the simplicity of the shapes of the house and the materials we chose,” Ed says. That means lots of low-maintenance options — such as the super-durable Viroc exterior cladding — and making spaces count. Sometimes twice. The living room is also the theater room. The guest room is also the workout room (just slide away the elliptical trainer, hide the bench in the closet, pull a cover-up curtain and engage the Murphy bed). “The bathroom does double duty, as well,” he says: “It’s the powder room, and we have a double door, so we can open the door and make it en suite for the guest room.” Ed’s attached-but-separate photography studio could flex now, or later, or any time in between: “In the future, we have a kitchenette, we have a toilet room, we have storage that can be converted into a shower, so we could make this a rental. Aging in place was part of what we were looking at.”
Ahead of his time: Some spaces weren’t necessarily designed for double duty, but they sure are coming in handy now that Ed’s not the only one without a commute. (“His inclusion of a light, inviting work space that allows him to do much of his photography work without leaving home seems particularly prescient now,” says Richmond, of AIA Seattle.) Darlene, a branch manager at Windermere, has “taken over” Ed’s fly-tying room as a temporary office, and the existing backyard basketball court “has been a godsend to be able to home-school and do PE out here,” he says.
More holistically, all the time the Sozinhos invested in this home, which speaks to so many essences of time, has paid off in profound ways.
“There’s this sense of tranquillity in this space, especially in this time, that’s been absolutely phenomenal,” Ed says. “We’ve said this to ourselves — my wife and I — a couple times through this entire crisis: ‘It’s like, I can’t believe we’ve actually been able to do this house, and we get to sit here during this whole thing. And it’s a very calming process — not just because it’s home, but the space is still new to us, so we’ve still got that kind of, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ And for dinner, we open the doors, and I’m out here barbecuing, and it’s just quiet and peaceful; and the garden’s in now; and there’s insects flying around; and there’s flowers starting to come up; and there’s just this quality about it that feels really, really good. It’s helped a lot. We feel very lucky.”